No one can tell you what it means to be a father. You have to be one to know what the role entails. My daughter was born and I adjusted to the duty. She was a helpless baby and I was the parent she depended on. I tried to make it work with her mother for she is a marvelous person. I tried to be the life partner she imagined me to be and hated myself each day for the lie. I avoided her in order to hide from her who I truly was, and in turn, she grew anxious. When we parted ways and I became the primary custodian to our child, the distance made it difficult for her to come often and see her daughter. When our daughter turned eight years old, we mutually agreed it was best for her to live with my grandmother. My parents were done with raising children and I didn’t want to give them a fresh round of parental duty. My grandmother was relatively young at 60 and lived alone in her tree-shrouded rondavel hut. A young girl would cheer her up. She would have someone to send out to the kiosk. I brought them a paraffin lamp so my daughter could do her homework when she came back from the local primary school.
When my daughter was twelve, I moved to Nairobi. I told myself I was doing it for her; that the decision stemmed from the compulsion to be a responsible parent, who was only seeking better ways to provide. Eventually I had to admit I moved away not only to have better sources of livelihood, but also because I feared she would
discover I loved men and reject me. In Nairobi, I could cater for her upkeep from a distance, assured she would never discover who I was.
Alex helped quieten these hesitations and fears. I went to my parents’ home with him and everyone in my family was warmed by his charm. Children sought him out to play with them. He never held back from making friends. Alex told my daughter he was my special friend. Each evening he took her out to the field to play football, a sport she loved so much. The three of us started hanging out to a point where we seemed a family. Children are quick in putting things in place. They see family as it is presented. They don’t demand it to express itself conventionally.
I finally told her I loved Alex. I asked what she understood by love and she said it was when a man finds a woman and they agree to marry and live together.
“What of two men?” I asked.
She looked down, just as I did as a child when anyone asked me difficult grownup questions. I took her hand in mine.
“I want to live with Alex,” I said.
She shrugged and looked up. I was ready for her smile.
“Does it mean he will be around more to play football with me?”
I nodded, feeling affirmed. Later, when I told my father who Alex was to me, when he shouted and berated me for betraying him, when he told me to leave home
and never call myself his son, it hurt less. I felt my daughter, in her generous childlike way, had understood and accepted me. That was all that mattered.